MADRID, Spain, JULY 16, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Last week, the Action Group of Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals and Bisexuals of Madrid (COGAM), handed in 1,500 letters to the Archdiocese of Madrid, from people wishing to renounce the Catholic faith.
ZENIT consulted Roberto Serres, associate professor of canon law at the St. Damasus School of Theology and juridical-canonical adviser of the archdiocese, on the meaning and gravity of apostasy.
Q: What is apostasy?
Serres: Apostasy is the total rejection of the Christian faith received at baptism. Baptism, the dignity of being a child of God, is never lost. But the baptized person can renounce his God-Father; Jesus Christ, who has shared our human condition to save us from our miseries; and the Church, in which he was born to the new life of grace.
Apostasy presupposes a radical act of the negation of all this, done personally, consciously and freely, independent of the concrete external manner employed.
For example, the sole fact of abandoning the practice of religion, or intellectual doubt on some aspects of the faith, would not constitute apostasy. Apostasy is a very grave act because it means renouncing completely the faith received.
In these cases, the baptized person, having freely placed himself outside the communion of the Church, loses the goods of salvation that we receive through her.
For example, he cannot receive the sacraments and is deprived of ecclesiastical funeral rites. It is not a question of “punishing” anyone, but of being consistent with the attitude adopted, avoiding confusions that would not be respectful either of the nature of the Church or the will of the one who has abandoned her in that way.
Of course, in these cases also, the possibility of reconciliation with the Church is always open, if sufficient signs are shown of a sincere will to conversion.
Q: Is it a frequent phenomenon?
Serres: I have no data on the frequency of apostasy. Moreover, it would be difficult to establish rigorous statistics, because apostasy is, first and foremost, an interior act of complete rejection of the faith, which does not need a specific formal expression.
It is certainly true that if there is no external expression and a perception of the same. It is not a consummated offense, from the point of view of canon law. … But the root of everything is in the interior of the person and in his will to renounce the faith received.
I think that indifference to faith is more frequent on the part of the baptized than authentic apostasy.
Indifference is a different attitude, which consists in not living according to the gifts and exigencies received in baptism, in abandoning the works by which faith is manifested, in not being concerned about the repercussions of the faith in daily life. However, on many occasions there is a background of faith, which manifests itself at certain times and in specific attitudes.
For apostasy to take place, another step is necessary, which consists in passing from indifference to rejection.
Q: In “Ecclesia in Europa,” John Paul II referred to the “silent apostasy.” What fundamental difference is there between a formal act of apostasy and the latter?
Serres: There is no fundamental difference in this area, given that formal external acts are not expressions of what is occurring in the person’s interior, which is where the decision is made for or against God and the faith of the Church.
When, in this apostolic exhortation, the Pope refers to silent apostasy, he does so in the context of European culture, which rejects God and puts man in his place as absolute center of reality.
It is a culture that, in some of its manifestations, opens the way for man to abandon the faith and places itself clearly against it, even if no explicit or public statements of apostasy is made.
Q: Why do you think that those who live in de facto apostasy do not make up their minds to take the formal step of renouncing the faith?
Serres: No specific formality is needed to reject faith. What we should ask ourselves, instead, is not why the rejection of the faith is not formalized, but rather what must the testimony of the Church be in the face of the different situations of estrangement from the Church, in its different degrees, and how are we fulfilling what the Pope asked us in the apostolic exhortation “Ecclesia in Europa,” which you quoted earlier, to proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of hope.
Q: Are there previous instances in the Catholic Church of a “public apostasy” such as COGAM’s?
Serres: In this instance, not only is it a case of public apostasy, but also of “collective” apostasy, inasmuch as some representatives of this association have together handed in a specific number of written apostasies of different persons.
Apostasy, as has already been said, is an eminently personal act, which does not need a specific external expression to verify it as such, although it is obvious that if it did not exist, it could not have external effects.
But from this it also follows that if the external manifestation does not correspond to the interior act of the will of the person, it would remain an empty formalism, lacking in authenticity and content.
The risk that can exist in these sorts of “collective apostasies,” which have their promoters, is that not all those who have signed their name are really aware of the meaning and repercussions of this act.